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Egretta alba (Great egret, Great white egret)

[=Casmerodius albus]

Grootwitreier [Afrikaans]; iLanda (also applied to Cattle egret) [Zulu]; Samunkoma gomuzera [Kwangali]; Leholosiane (generic term for egret) [South Sotho]; Svorechena [Shona]; Grote zilverreiger [Dutch]; Grande aigrette [French]; Silberreiher [German]; Garça-branca-grande [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Ciconiiformes > Family: Ardeidae

Egretta alba (Great egret, Great white egret) Egretta alba (Great egret, Great white egret)
Great egret. [photo Callie de Wet ©] Great egret. [photo Callie de Wet ©]

Distribution and habitat

Occurs in every continent except Antarctica; in southern Africa, it is uncommon to locally common in central and southern Mozambique, Zimbabwe, northern and eastern Botswana, the eastern half of South Africa and the Caprivi Strip (Namibia). It generally favours shallow, open areas of rivers, lakes, marshes, flooded grassland, flood plains, estuaries, saltpans, sewage works and dams.

Distribution of Great egret in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Predators and parasites

It has been recorded as prey of Aquila rapax (Tawny eagle).

Movements and migrations

Nomadic and sometimes partially migratory, as it is a summer visitor to the Western Cape and some southern African birds are thought to be non-breeding migrants from central Africa, staying from late winter to early summer.


It mainly eats eats fish and amphibians, doing most of its foraging in shallow water, standing still with its body hunched and ready to strike at any prey that comes in range. It also hunts using a technique in which stirs its feet or flaps its wings to disturb lurking animals, grabbing them when they try to escape. It may even follow a Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) to catch animals moving away from it. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Vertebrates
    • fish
      • Oreochromis mossambicus (Mozambique tilapia)
    • amphibians
    • reptiles
    • birds
    • small mammals
  • Insects


  • Monogamous and colonial, breeding in colonies of up to roughly 200 nests, usually alongside other water bird species.
  • The nest is built by the female with material delivered by the male, consisting of a saucer-shaped platform of sticks and reeds, lined with rushes and fine plant stems. It is usually placed in a reedbed or tree as high as possible, near the centre of the colony.
  • Egg-laying season is from September-March, peaking from January-February.
  • It lays 2-5 eggs, which are incubated by both sexes for roughly 24-27 days.
  • The chicks are brooded and fed by both adults and are capable of weak flight at 40 days old. They leave the colony with their parents roughly 10-20 days later.


Not threatened.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.